It was a joke song that took The Chainsmokers the rest of the way. Pall and Taggart tense visibly when asked about that time they did “#Selfie” on American Idol — hitting play, then posing for photos with Ryan Seacrest and Jennifer Lopez. Famous DJs reamed them on Twitter. Deadmau5 wrote, “The only thing @TheChainsmokers and pop EDM have in common is probably cancer.” Pall remembers it as “that week of hell.” Taggart is defensive: “I don’t hear [criticism] now.”
“Of course it was difficult,” says Steve Aoki, 38, who released “#Selfie” on his Dim Mak label. “But I’m a DJ that throws cake at people. You’ve got to love what you do, and do it with heart and soul. These guys do that.”
Maybe so, but four nights before the Red Rocks show, The Chainsmokers played “Closer” at the MTV Video Music Awards and bombed. There was no stage production to speak of, some awkward non-chemistry with Halsey and, as Taggart tells it, “It sounded like shit. We were told my voice was going to be mixed well, but there was no reverb and it was way louder than the track for the broadcast. I was set up to fail. Nearly every other person lip-synced it, and we knew because we had them in our ears. So now I know why you lip-sync.”
He points out that was only the second time he has sung live but doesn’t realize that’s part of the issue: Who gets to give singing a try on a nationally televised awards show? (Pall saw Kanye West in a hallway but was too shy to introduce himself.) “It’s funny,” says Taggart. “Everyone said congratulations, and my mom was like, ‘Keep up with your singing lessons.’ ” He is, for the record, sticking with the lessons.
It’s dark in Colorado. While we were talking, the sun went down and the lasers came up, projecting a rainbow of colors on the massive tilted stones that loom above the crowd. The kids from the bus and about 9,000 others are outside, chanting and stumbling. Backstage, friends, family and associates chatter giddily. Taggart has been feeding his pals THC-laden gummy bears from a local dispensary and is pouring shots of tequila for anyone within shouting distance. Things get quiet. A circle is formed.
“I had not planned a speech. I’m just going to wing it right now,” says Taggart. “It’s crazy to see this group of beautiful faces celebrating this glorious moment, which is only one rung on this ladder that we will continue to climb until we die” — he pauses — “of alcohol poisoning. Until then, I just want to say thank you for being part of our journey.”
Amid cheers, someone calls the toast an “EDM sacrament,” and indeed, much of The Chainsmokers’ gospel could be plucked from collegiate men’s blog BroBible. There’s the story they tell about punching each other’s faces, for fun, until they were bloody in the backseat of a car in Mexico, “probably coming from a strip club,” Pall guesses. Taggart does every sport that involves a board, and while he won’t vote for Donald Trump, he doesn’t claim to be a Hillary Clinton booster, either: “I’m not saying she’s the best candidate of all time,” he says. “I’m just saying this guy’s a f—ing idiot.”